Sep 092015


I was never a mod. Too awkward, too uncertain, too utterly lacking in cool or style, too scared of my own shadow. But I loved The Jam. Absolutely bloody loved them. I remember thinking – and saying – and believing – that, in the late Seventies, Paul Weller was writing songs that I would write if I had, if I had… whatever it was Weller had. Their music – that first album and All Mod Cons particularly – made me feel alive, raw, real, certain, understood. And, just like someone in the film, Weller sticking a Shelley quote on an album-cover dug poetry – and politics – deep into the soil of the rest of my life.

Of course, when I say I wasn’t a mod, it wasn’t through lack of trying, at least for a few months. I bought a (terrible) parka in Second Time Around. I got my hair cut like Weller (only to end up with something that made me look more like Rick Buckler). I bunked off school and went down to the Royalty to try and get a part (unsuccessfully) as an extra in Quadrophenia. I once sang ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ live on stage, at The Pegasus in Stoke Newington (to what was almost certainly huge acclaim from adoring fans, I don’t know – I was too drunk on rum and black and fantasies of Whatsername being there to see my moment of glory).

There are those who would question whether Weller was a mod anyway, whether The Jam were really a mod band. I don’t know that either: I’m not sure what mod really means. I’m not sure how subversive, how modernist, how political it ever was/is. Or whether that matters. I do know it was proud and glittering and embracing and precious and exclusive and – sometimes – beautiful and it wrapped itself around some of the greatest black-and-white music ever made. I think it was/is important. And I know I wasn’t ever a mod, however hard I tried.

Which, in itself, may or may not matter. I wanted to cry at times watching this thing and I’m still not sure why. It reminded me of growing up, of course, of my parents, of my kids, of time passing. It reminded me of twenty-odd years living in Woking, of people and places lost, of dreams diluted or dumped, of hope kept alive by music and friendship and love and language and football and art. It reminded me of how like and how unlike Weller I am. And how the people who made the film (most particularly, Weller himself) couldn’t ever bring themselves to admit that.

Someone said the other day that Weller was ‘the man we all wanted to be’, because he was ‘more of a man’ than us. Well yes. And no. I watched the film and I could see why he enraptured us. I could see why I’ve spent half my adult life talking about him (have a look at…/soaked-in-treasure-a…/…). Watching this, I recognised the part of me that still wants to be him (or at least the 19-year-old him). And yet…There was no darkness in this: this was hagiography, a weird, cartoony panegyric. People like me, and (more importantly) people who should have been in it because they directly helped make Weller who he is, were airbrushed, in a Stalinist way, from the story. When my daughter watched it and said, ‘I suppose I never heard them chronologically, you just showed me the individual songs you liked, not the full albums in order. I’m jealous, honestly, that I didn’t grow up with it in the same way’, I felt hugely guilty for a moment. I envy her her distance from it all in a way. And I envied Weller. But he wasn’t a bloody saint. He was a projection, a screen, a mirror. He was a single-minded, selfish twat. He was a bully. He was charming and clever and I once watched him be hugely, unnecessarily kind to someone at a gig. He was utterly unlike me (apart from the selfish twattiness. And the charm, obviously). We’d probably hate each other if we ever met. I can only play the driven, sure-of-himself working-class hard man convincingly for about a second. (And, of course, that might be the point: I suspect without his slow-burning, finely-crafted public brand, Weller could only actually play the driven, working-class hard man for a few seconds. Because – yes – he’s ever-changing…)

Another friend said, after watching this, ‘he seems more comfortable these days’. True, perhaps – and her saying that emphasised to me that Paul Weller has never actually been comfortable, ever: his drinking, drug-taking, his entire life seems to have been one of seeking comfort and simultaneously spitting at it and running from it whenever it appeared round the corner. He’s written some fine songs (each one, interestingly, a straightforward love song) in the last thirty years. But his attempts at experimentation, to distance himself from The Other Two and his essential Sixtiesness, have seemed (mostly) clunky and self-conscious.

Paul Weller: completely unlike me. There’s a fabulous moment about 25 seconds into this post-Jam (but desperately/knowingly-nostalgic-already) Style Council video, filmed at Woking Football Club. Watch him leap off the scooter and notice the car shake:

He’s human. Uncomfortable. A bit crap. It’s one of my favourite Weller things, that moment. Wonderful. And, oddly, not in this film.
Which is a shame. Because it’s almost – almost – as wonderful and telling as watching the power, hope, certainty and utter uncrapness of this:

 Posted by at 6:18 pm
Sep 032015


Darker than others
The worst moment
One of the worst moments
Came unexpected and daggering:
I was singing ‘Rhythm of Life’
Again and again
Over and over
Again and again
And you told me to stop

 Posted by at 6:28 pm
Aug 242015





The year my great-great-grandmother turned eighteen, the Duke of Wellington took a pack of hounds with him from England to Spain, so he could hunt foxes while his soldiers busied themselves killing Frenchmen and raping Spanish girls. Goya, meanwhile, painted rich ladies and generals and sketched the dying as he wandered through an inside-outside hell, tormented by his deafness, by the blackening violence and by the crunching smallness of making ends meet. Back home, my great-great-grandmother was painting imaginary masterpieces and driving a pack of imaginary hounds through an imaginary Spain. And me? I stayed in Barcelona, learned Catalan, stole.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 6:42 pm
Aug 242015



Obviously you find distractions:
the sun,
the breeze,
crass memories of the French girl’s arse
Obviously you find ways to
turn aside from what lies ahead.

The burial ground stares at the river:
the river stares back
and you decide up here
is a better place to be than down there
waiting to cross.


There are three birds, gra mo chroi, three.
The first tastes the wind like a lover,
Is nudged by her in the right direction.
The second jitters jagged, zig-zagged, spasmodic and scared.
The third just flies.

Can I sketch the bend in the Dart?
Can I sing a song about a graveyard on a hill?
I sit, Ted Hughes and my father peering over my shoulder,
As a woodpigeon creaks its purring, smoky nonsense,
Repeats the call-call-call I heard in my small room
Back when the world bewildered more than now,
Back when I wandered an Essex campsite
And realised that, just as I’d found a self, I had separated.

A woman once told me we give birth to our own parents
But, like my father, I’m easily distracted
And a wending white canoe
Twists my head away from The Breath.
This place is lovely, yes, but it’s not beautiful.
For beauty we need nobility, intimidation,
Awe and a sex so powerful
The bend in the river straightens.
This place is merely a record you like,
A girl you quite fancy,
This place is sweet and nice and soft.
The vigour of this place was buried when all the men came.

Feet apart, poised, targeting.
Men take photos because our guns are long silenced.
Each time we press the button, a little death.
Each time, an invented soul is captured.
No place for a woman.

I think this and then I think about the Thai monks
And how we resist what is
And how that’s all we need to learn. All.

There are three birds, gra mo chroi, three.
The first tastes the wind like a lover,
Is nudged by her in the right direction.
The second jitters jagged, zig-zagged, spasmodic and scared.
The third just flies.


Afterwards I poach an egg, light a fire
And I dig furrows for produce I’ll never see.
The trowel leaves something like stigmata
And we all find that funny.

 Posted by at 6:31 pm
Jul 262015



There are deckchairs here, monitored twenty-four hours a day by High-Impact Revenue-Assurance Leisure-Seating Operatives under an agreement the Royal Parks have with WeCare4U Inc, which also runs eleven mental health units in the Midlands, a factory in Bahrein that produces chilli sauce and riot shields, and a chain of supermarkets in South Wales. Apart from the now infamous ‘Look, it’s Taylor Swift!’ incident on July 22nd last year, no civilian has managed to sit in one of these deckchairs for more than ten seconds without being confronted with the legendary mumble, ‘That’llbefourquidmateinnit’.

There are trees here. Ornamental silver limes, rare black poplars, proud oaks, stern planes, sweet hawthorns. These trees club together, help create a micro-climate: Blatter-cold in summer, Qatar-hot in winter. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 3:28 pm

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